Who am I?

I ask,
& you tell me:
I’m your oldest & dearest friend,
I’m a reader, a singer, & a mathematician.

When I wake in the night,
(disoriented, drenched in sweat)
you’re there to hold me,
reminding me that you’re here,
& remind me that it’s over, it’s over, it’s over—

In these moments,
when I’m running (wildly) lost along a dirt road,
you call my name,
drawing me back onto the correct gravel path,
drawing me back into myself:
You’re the guiding lamp leading me home.

As I follow your words—
the bobbing light in front of me—
I come back to myself:

I am Jude St. Francis.
I am your boyfriend.
I was treated horribly & came out on the other end.
Most importantly, I was always me.

If I am Jude, then…
Who are you?
I ask,
& you tell me:

I am Willem Ragnarrson
& I will never let you go.

10/4/2020 (edited & expanded upon 10/5)

Notes: This is one of my favorite scenes from A Little Life. When Jude, who is plagued by nightmares, wakes up disoriented, he “wakes so far from himself that he can’t remember who he is.” Willem, his boyfriend, chants “him back to himself.” (Pgs. 607-608, Kindle version.) The italicized lines are either directly from this scene, or paraphrased slightly to fit the poem. As always, thanks for reading!

Dear Willem

You compiled my life for me—
a spreading accordion of file folders labeled Jude I Jude II Jude III Jude IV bursting with awards, photos, certificates, love letters, JB’s art, & my legal documents

With you,
you shone like the Sun,
brightening the white-washed walls of our apartment

Your jumper cable arms
wound around me kept me safe
from the snarling dogs of my mental illness

I’m in denial.
I’m hardly living
in this hollowed-out shell of an apartment we called home
I’m a zombified shell of a man, wandering, without you

Why didn’t I just retire?
Why didn’t I just grit my teeth & endure sex?
Why didn’t I become a kept man
like you said, so we could travel together?
I’d cook for you,
I’d sing to you,
I’d hold you close.

I know why: Because I thought my work was my fucking life, my fingerprint on the world
I should’ve made more time for you
I should’ve stockpiled the sound of your voice,
the sandalwood perfume you wear,
& have a chemist bottle your very essence in a jar
I should’ve recorded our conversations,
snapped more pictures,
taken more videos of our life—
thirty-fucking-four years—together

I should’ve cared less about my crystalized past & cared more about the love you showed me in pointing out the monarch butterfly’s wings
I should’ve cared more about your mantra: I am Williem Ragnerson & I will never let you go

I should’ve counted my blessings:
my adoptive parents
my talented friends
rather than believe the lies my abusers told me
but their words leave their scars on my forearms

I should’ve asked for help.
I should’ve ignored the shit my fucked-up head told me,
but the hyenas keep skulking in the trees.
I should’ve realized that you give me a quiet mind

If I had to do it all over again,
I’d stop cutting earlier
I’d re-learn how to love myself
I’d go to therapy for all the abuse I suffered
I’d learn how to mistrust that little voice in my head
I’d listen to Andy, Harold, Julia, JB, Malcolm, & most of all you—
Willem, you cared more about me living than I ever did

I hope the shoot is going well
I miss you so much


edited 5/1/2020

Note: italicized pieces are from A Little Life & Blue October’s “A Quiet Mind,” respectively. Other references to A Little Life are un-italicized.